Season 6, Episode 5
May 3, 2021
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Season 6, Episode 5
May 3, 2021

Entrepreneur David Perell is teaching others to write online, share ideas, and build an internet audience to get ahead.

Entrepreneur David Perell is teaching others to write online, share ideas, and build an internet audience to get ahead.

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About Mastering Your Domain with David Perell

What if you could create a community where you can share your unique perspective and ideas for anyone around the world to access at any time, and make money doing it?

David Perell can teach you how. 

 David is a writer, podcast host, and founder of an online school called Write of Passage. His mission is to teach thousands of people to write online, share their ideas, and build an internet following. 

Though people have been communicating since time immemorial, the internet enables us for the first time in history to freely share ideas with a global audience. And David represents a section of the internet that deserves celebration – those who are using electronic communications to help others improve their lives.

The Altruism of Education

David believes the world wide web is one of the most powerful tools available to accelerate your career, find a like-minded community, and open up unexpected opportunities. His generosity lies in helping others learn the best practices to take advantage of their internet presence. 

I’ve been looking forward to speaking with David for a couple of years now. His weekly email newsletters, which are collections of interesting and uncommon tidbits he has found on the internet, are their own crazy good turn. If you get nothing else from this episode, sign up for his emails. You’ll be given the gift of expanding knowledge.

In this podcast, you will learn:

  • How David progressed from needing writing improvement to leading a writing course
  • The reason online education is disrupting traditional in-school learning
  • The Silicon Valley business concepts on which Write of Passage is based
  • The single piece of feedback that prompted David to reimagine his entire offering for the better

We’re Giving Away Scholarships to Write of Passage

I am inspired by what David is doing with online education and the importance he’s placing on writing. So we’re offering three scholarships to the Write of Passage online course for the next cohort, which begins in September.

I hope these opportunities will be a jumping point for the winners to head off on a path toward their own crazy good turns.

To learn more about these scholarships and about Write of Passage, please subscribe to our email newsletter at crazygoodturns.org/subscribe.

David Perell Interview

FRANK BLAKE: So welcome, David. It’s great to have you on the show.

DAVID PERELL: Thank you. I appreciate that. When you start writing online, the reason why I started and why I believe in this so much is because of the serendipity it creates and you just get to attract really cool people. And being here today is a really good example of that, so thank you for inviting me.

FRANK BLAKE: Absolutely. All right, there are so many different angles of what you’re doing that fascinates me, but I’m going to start at the most basic level. The thing that most caught my eye right at the start, which is you are a terrific writer. But from what I know at the start of your career, you didn’t identify yourself as a writer or even think about yourself as a good writer. So how does someone move from that to an online course on writing?

DAVID PERELL: There’s two stories that come to mind. The first was when I was a junior in college, I remember showing a friend at the time, my essay that I’d written for a class and she looked at me and she said, this is terrible. This is absolutely terrible.

And I remember my senior year of college, I was talking to my parents about trying to find a tutor who would help me in writing. And they were friends, family friends at a local high school in San Francisco where I’d grown up, and I was going to school in North Carolina. Long story short, it never ended up panning out.

And so what happened was as I was in college, I began to sense that writing online was this thing that people didn’t realize had such high returns. And what happened was my junior year, I got an internship through Twitter. My first job came from an article that I wrote about how media was changing.

And I was just sort of blown away. I was going to school in a small town in North Carolina, 5,000 people in the town. And I was just sort of blown away by the fact that I could put ideas out there and then reach people all around the world. It was just incredible to me. It still is. When I went and I was working that first job, I was basically writing the sales texts for the advertising agency.

And basically I would write the deck. Other people would do the pitches, but I was doing a lot of the dirty work, but I got this feedback that my writing wasn’t very good.

And I remember we were pitching Bacardi, the alcohol company, and I said that I wanted it to be epic. And I remember my boss at the time, in very timed and good-hearted way saying, epic is just a word. You got to save that for nights out with your college friends and you’re out of college now. This is now the professional world. And he said, “You’re writing, it just has to improve.” And I remember walking out of his office asking him, how do I do that?

And he said, “You’ve got to write all the time. You’ve got to read really good writers.” And kind of cliche things, but cliche not because they were wrong, but because they were true, but I just didn’t realize how much depth was behind those sentences. And then I ended up getting laid off one January evening, totally unexpectedly.

Had to figure out what I was going to do. And I just said, you know what? I know that online writing works, I’m going to get really good at this. And I just worked extremely hard at it for about the last four and a half years.

FRANK BLAKE: So you’ve described writing as a way of life, not just something you get good at.

DAVID PERELL: Totally.

FRANK BLAKE: Explain that a little.

DAVID PERELL: Writing is a way of life. It is a way of being. There’s three ideas that I have about the writing process. They’re really simple, but I only have three of them, but each one is actually life-changing once you begin to investigate the second and third order effects of what they are.

The first is that you should write from abundance rather than writing from scarcity. A lot of people sit down and they just look at a blank white page with that flashing cursor of doom. And they’re like, ah, how do I write? The second is writing from conversation, making writing social. We think of writing as almost like Thoreau going into the woods in the mid 19th century going to Walden pond and just escaping society for two years.

Only then could he write his book. And I say, you know what? No. Writing should… New ideas should emerge from conversation. We can actually improve ideas through conversation and we’re always in conversation. And so you’ll always have this little background process in your head basically saying, what’s interesting? What are the ideas that are really catching my attention?

And then the third one is that you should write in public. That actually the act of publishing your ideas kick-starts a world of intellectual serendipity where people come into your life who you wouldn’t have known. And so I think in the confluence of all those things, what you realize is that you don’t just put your ideas away for most of the day and then you sit down to write and start thinking.

No, you’re sort of always thinking about what am I going to write about? I have 60 to 90 minutes in my day reserved every single day. And what I try to do is by the time that I sit down to write, I’m not thinking about, okay, what am I going to write? That’s what I do when I’m away from the screen. What I do then when I sit down to write is I just externalize the ideas that I’ve been structuring and internalizing for the last 24 hours.

FRANK BLAKE: And getting all this information, processing how to write, thinking about how to write, how does that then turn into, okay, I’m going to start an online course? Why do you want to go teach others versus, okay, I’m just going to absorb all that goodness for myself?

DAVID PERELL: There’s a couple reasons. So I would say that the first is just a very practical and utilitarian one, which was, I needed to support myself. I wasn’t making any money. And so after I got laid off, I had to figure out what I was going to do.

And I think a lot of the things that have worked well for me have been recognizing things that are already happening, where sort of the universe is just giving me something. And then I’m like, ah, now I can sort of take that energy and I can sort of structure it and make it concrete and then turn it into a thing.

What was happening was people were reaching out to me because I was building an online audience and people, especially in the finance industry, which has this culture of writing, with investment memos going back to Warren Buffet, going back to Howard Marks now with Jeff Bezos, right?

These legendary memos and investment managers realized, oh, if I write, if I start building an audience, I will then get clients. And that’s a really good customer acquisition strategy. They’re totally right about that. And so I was working with people one-on-one, but I was saying the same things over and over again, and kind of getting bored.

And so what I realized is that I could offer a better product at a lower cost and serve more people if I turned that from a service business into much more of a product business. And I had a friend, his name was Tiago Forte, and he runs a course called Building a Second Brain that was quite influential for me. I called him up one day.

I said, “Hey, Tiago, I’d love to do this. I’d like to make it with you.” And in five minutes he said, “Sure, let’s do it.” I flew down to Mexico City where he was living at the time. We flew down a film crew from Los Angeles to shoot a bunch of videos and start to make this thing.

And to be honest with you, the first couple of times I thought it was just an experiment. I didn’t think that it was really going to go well. I was able to support myself from the first two cohorts and then things really began to just blow up. And I began to say, wow, there’s really something here.

And then on the side, you just have this shocking rise in online education, which I am so bullish on, both at the childhood level and in terms of what’s happening with online education for adults. And then it just started working and we kept on doubling down, began to hire a team, and here we are.

FRANK BLAKE: So I’d like to get into the online education because that idea is such an interesting space. But before getting there, would you just describe Write of Passage? Describe your course so that the listeners can get some idea of what it is.

DAVID PERELL: I’m going to describe what it is by also describing what it’s not. It’s not like the way that many people think about online education, which is a series of pre-recorded videos and then you sit back and do nothing. Yes, we have some pre-recorded videos.

There’s some value to lectures. But what we do is we have 12 live sessions that I deliver in five weeks. We have a whole group of about 15 alumni mentors who take the big course, which is hundreds of people, and they make it small. We have a session every single week where it’s a live writing session where people come together and in two hours, the entire group actually writes an article together, their own article, but we’re all together.

We have a series of nine processes that we actually go through. Then what a lot of online education has tried to do is they’ve tried to make it easy and frictionless. We have tried to make it hard and friction-filled. And so what I’ve said is let’s look at some of the up-and-coming experiences that people love and that are actually life-changing for people, these true rites of passage.

And one that comes to mind for me — Write of Passage isn’t nearly this intense — would be something like the Navy SEALs. The reason why the Navy SEALs is so impactful for people is because it’s really difficult. It’s demanding, it’s challenging, it gets the best out of you and it’s a social experience. And because of that, people develop these lifelong friendships.

They never forget what it’s like to go through the training for the Navy SEALs. And we’ve said, you know what? We’re going to make Write of Passage similarly difficult, similarly social world where people have to rely on each other. They’re challenged. They have to depend on each other, and they’re constantly saying I can’t do this.

And then a week later saying, oh my goodness, I can’t believe what I did. And so it’s a social experience rather than a solo one. It’s difficult rather than easy. And it’s live instead of pre-recorded.

FRANK BLAKE: My son served in Iraq and one of the things his commander would say to his group was bonding through shared pain and sacrifice. So, there is that sense of, no, you actually want the friction. You don’t want frictionless. And I’ve listened to you talk about this and you talk about the hero’s journey. And is that exactly what you were describing there?

DAVID PERELL: Really similar. I think that the Lord of the Rings, it starts in the shire and it ends in the shire, but throughout the story of the movies, there’s a whole journey that Frodo and co go on. And I think that that is what a rite of passage is.

You actually kind of end up in a place that’s very similar to where you started, but throughout the experience, you actually go on these series of adventures. And one of the things with Write of Passage, though, that is different is, this is one of the things I’m very most proud of, we have people who come back over and over and over again.

We have students who’ve taken the course four or five times. And that’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to basically create an experience that people come in the first time and they say, you know what? I really like these people.

Maybe they’re staying for the community. And then the ideas really begin to grow on them more, and then now they’re actually writing. And now they’re beginning to come back and teach others. So we’ve wanted to create an experience that’s a lot like music where every single time you go through, you’re getting more and more depth from the experience, even though you’re experiencing something that’s generally the same thing.

FRANK BLAKE: I’d love it if you talk for a little bit about how you think about online education, where it is in its arc of development and how you kind of compare and contrast to the physical, normal education.

DAVID PERELL: There’s a lot of different ways to think about this. But one of the things that made me really excited was in this cohort, there was an Ivy League professor who runs a management program at Wharton. And he took the course and he’s just got this beautiful Zoom set up, super, just sophisticated and focused, showed up to everything.

And I was just worried that we weren’t going to provide an experience that was up to his standard. And I saw him at all the live sessions and look, not every single student feels this way, but he reached out and emailed me and he said, “Write of Passage is the single best educational experience I’ve ever seen.” And I was blown away. I’m just blown away by the fact that he felt that.

The point here isn’t that I have a great product. That could be true. It might not be true. I might’ve gotten lucky here. The point is that we are seeing the classic case of low-end disruption. The fact that this even could be true is not a comment on Write of Passage.

It is a comment on the online education industry itself, where what happens in low-end disruption is… Going back to Clayton Christensen theory, you have a market which gets better and better and more expensive over time, begins to over-serve its audiences. A new offering comes in that starts off very low price, and doesn’t adequately serve its customers, and over time gets better and better at a low price.

Through that, the incumbent gets disrupted by a competitor. And we’ve been writing Write of Passage now for less than two years. And the fact that this is happening also is very much a result of the technologies that are enabling this. I just see the next decade of these courses getting better and better — actual software platforms, actual service businesses that can help online educators teach.

It makes me really excited for what’s coming because the educational offerings are quick. They’re snappy, they’re fun. And you know what? I will come out here and say it. I absolutely think that the profit motive makes you way better. You are on the hook. Look, I just said a good thing about my courses. Every cohort, we have refunds.

We have people who are not happy with the quality of the course for whatever reason. And you know what I do? I call every single person who asks for a refund and I speak to them on the phone directly. And if they just write a good reason for why they’ve asked for a refund… And I listen to them. I get qualitative data on what don’t they like. How can we improve it?

And sometimes I don’t agree with them. Sometimes I agree with them so much that we radically change the cohort. I have a really good story on that, that we should talk about. And we have people who are thrilled. We have people who aren’t thrilled, but you know what? Our rate of change and iteration can be really fast. And I was taking a class at Columbia with one of the top philosophers in the world.

He used to run the Frankfurt School in Germany, which is sort of one of the intellectual centers of 20th century philosophy. And he might’ve been a great philosopher, but he was just not a good teacher. He was not a good teacher, and Columbia did not have the proper incentive structure to get these teachers to really focus on what they were teaching and to be improving quickly, listening to students and online education, they’ve got to do that. Otherwise you’ll go out of business.

FRANK BLAKE: What’s fascinating to me is, I mean, I think the complaints about universities’ physical education have been there for a long time. Just what you described at Columbia, we’ve all experienced in schools. And online education from my perspective has been actually sort of surprisingly slow at chipping away at that.

Partly because it’s just sort of okay, here’s a video, go watch this video. That’s as boring as sitting in a room and listening to something. What has struck me about how you describe what you’re doing is the focus and intensity that you bring to it. But also you said something, I was listening to one of your podcasts, you said the course is a brand and thinking about, I’m not building up Columbia, you’re building Write of Passage.

And just what you were describing in terms of that constantly iterating and improving, I haven’t seen that really take hold in the rest of online education.

DAVID PERELL: I think a lot of it is just an obsession and I really try not to be what I call a Write of Passage exceptionalist. I tell this to my team all the time. To the extent that we have an advantage, it is an advantage that will go away to the extent that there are things that we know, these are not sustainable advantages.

And I was reading something yesterday that let’s just pretend it’s true, because it might be, that the only sustainable competitive advantage in business over years, and you would know much better than I would, is really high quality leadership and culture.

And that’s one of the things that we’ve tried to build over time, and it is an obsession to the smallest detail. So I’ll tell you one thing that we do that I don’t think other courses do. So after every single live session, what we do is everyone on our team sits down and throughout as I teach, as we deliver the course, we have students who are part of this.

We break down every single aspect of the live experience that wasn’t perfect. I mean, that’s the standard. If it’s not impeccably perfect, we write it down. We talk about how do we make that thing better? And we spend 30 to 45 minutes, and then we have at the top of a notes page, we write all these things down.

And we’re criticizing the ideas, not the person. And then what we do is after every single cohort, we look at all of those. We have data, qualitative and quantitative, from what students like, what they don’t like, where they’re improving, where they’re not improving. And I did this two days ago.

We then cut the bottom 10% of every single cohort in terms of what we deliver, in terms of what we do. And then we add new things over time. And so what we have is we have this constant process of destruction and creation. And by taking things out, we basically have this Darwinian struggle to make sure that every single idea, every single thing that we do belongs there.

And we have confirmation from students that it works. And if you do that over time iteratively, you really begin to have a product that’s improving. And we are obsessive about that.

FRANK BLAKE: I have a feeling that that Columbia philosophy professor does not go through that exercise.

DAVID PERELL: He doesn’t.

FRANK BLAKE: I want to get back to the negative feedback that made a difference, because that sounded like an interesting thing. One of the things that also strikes me is as you’re embarked on this, how many really important business concepts you are importing into your thought process.

And one of them is, I know I’ve heard you talk about learning and as the educator, the need to look at things from the beginner’s eyes. And to me, that connected directly with Amazon and Bezos’s, hey, it’s first day, day one. Every day is day one. And I was just wondering how that interplay of these kind of core business ideas would… How does that work with what you’re doing?

Are you very conscious about importing those into your thought process? Or is it more random input?

DAVID PERELL: Well, I am. Here’s what I very strongly believe. I think that Silicon Valley has developed new ways of working and thinking that are tremendously useful and they aren’t perfect. There’s a lot of issues with them, but if you can study what is happening there and import those ideas into other industries, I think that you can actually have quite an advantage right now.

And for example, things like loops in marketing. We have normally thought about sales funnels. And so what a sales funnel is, you start off, you go top of the funnel and then certain people come out, they’re not interested in your product. Then they get to the bottom of your funnel and they buy. Cool.

But what Silicon Valley has figured out is not just that, but then how, after somebody purchases, how do they then become an advocate for what you’re doing? How do they… For example, like with a Zoom link, right? One person has the Zoom link. They send it to somebody else, and the other person has to sign up for Zoom.

And now just because I am using Zoom, I am now going to be a marketing recruiter for the Zoom company. Same thing with sharing Dropbox folders. All these sorts of things, these sort of viral mechanisms. Now, I don’t want Write of Passage to have billions and billions of people, but that’s just an idea that I have taken from Silicon Valley.

We very consciously think, okay, what are the kinds of experiences that we can design that are intense enough, that are memorable enough that get people talking about them?I would say, most of the people are coming in through some kind of word of mouth now because somebody that they know took the course.

And so we’re always thinking, not just how do we use the ideas that I share online to get people in, but then how do we build a system where the people who stay in are then recruiting their friends and then the system really goes? And then within the course itself, distribution as you know is extremely important.

It’s really easy to just say, oh, the best product will win. And I think that this is one of the reasons that people come back to Write of Passage because they have this sort of romantic idea that, oh, I’m going to write beautiful things. And then people are just going to read them. And ah, you put ideas out in the world and the Internet is this beautiful meritocracy, and it’s just not true at all.

As a writer, it is your responsibility to find your readers. It is not your reader’s responsibility to find you. You need to go out and you need to basically be this magnet and you need to go kicking and screaming around the world of the internet to say, hey, come read my stuff. Distribution is hard. It is hard, and that’s embedded into the idea of the course itself.

These business concepts are sort of all over the place because it’s not just writing as a, oh, I’m going to write a novel. It’s really thinking about how does writing sort of appeal to both the heart and to the mind.I want Write of Passage to impact our students’ lives intellectually, socially, and professionally, all those three things.

We go to the clouds of these sort of romantic ideas, but then we bring everything down to the streets of practicality and progress,, and making sure that whatever it is that you want to do, whether you want to make more money, whether you want to meet cool people, whether you want to actually express your ideas and improve your thinking, that we can hit all those bandwidths.

FRANK BLAKE: So let’s go to what was the negative feedback that got you to check in?

DAVID PERELL: This was great. I think that as you know, running a business really humbles you. There are moments where you think that you’re top of the world, that you have everything figured out and somebody comes to you and says “you don’t, son.” I tell this to my team all the time.

If people are giving us good feedback, we cannot be defensive. We never get angry. We have to listen. What a gift that we have. We have somebody who has come in to our courses, they have gone through. They’re skeptics, they’re critical. And now they are taking all the ideas that they’ve processed and they’re saying, here’s the things that I don’t like.

And in those ideas, those are the seeds of how can get better. So this guy named Matthew and he came in and he bought the course, not just for him, but his girlfriend. And he said, “Hey, I want a refund. I’m not happy with the course.” And he was very cold about it, very cold about it and put a bunch of short emails.

And so we sit down. I’m in Mexico City at the time, and it was right after our fourth cohort, I think. And he said, “You know what? Your writing instruction is just trash.” This is about a year and a half ago. And he said, “You say you’re a writing course. You haven’t even thought about the writing curriculum very much. And as a customer, I was upset.

So I want to refund, not just for me, but for my girlfriend.” And we were out quite a bit of money from that. And I just said, all right, you know what? Thank you very much. Let’s talk about how it can improve. And so basically I was just firing him with questions, and I just got to the essence of what he wanted. He wanted very tactical pieces of writing instruction.

And at the time, we only did live sessions on two live sessions a week. And we said, you know what? We’re going to add a third live session. So I said, “Mathew, here’s what we’re going to do. We are going to add four new live sessions. We are going to focus on the tactics of writing.” I just sort of structured everything he said because he was totally right about this.

I sent him an email right after and he calls me and he goes, “David, I’m so impressed by your ability to listen and your commitment to improvement that I am not going to take the refund. And I insist that you keep the money, use this money to build a great writing curriculum and the best writing school in the world.” And I said, “Wow. Thank you.”

And we went from that, and we built in a writing curriculum that now we’re in that place of now removing the stuff from it that’s not as good as it could be because we added so much and changed the course so drastically from that single piece of feedback.

And I’ll never forget it because he was so candid in the ways that he didn’t like the course. And I think that our growth in terms of being able to listen to somebody like that, who was angry and who was cold and bitter about the experience, and actually take what he was saying and in earnest implement his ideas, I think that’s something I’d like to do more of.

FRANK BLAKE: Good for you. That’s an amazing story. On a more positive element because the podcast is Crazy Good Turns and people doing great things for others… Who’s done a crazy good thing for you that you just go, wow, every chance I want to thank this person?

DAVID PERELL: So the person is Tyler Cowen, who I know you just interviewed and Tyler has been absolutely life-changing for me. This was in 2018.

I get this email from Tyler Cowen. And he says, “Hey, I’d like to reward you a grant, an Emergent Ventures grant.” And at the time I was making no money. And he said, “I really believe in you, and we’d like to give you this grant. And it is really for whatever it is that you want to do.”

And I said, “Wow, thank you very much.” This was in November. And I used that money to hire the film crew that we used to actually create Write of Passage. Had it not been for that, I just would not have had the money to do that. There’s no other way to do it. And I would have had to borrow money from my business partner, from a friend or something.

And then he ended up giving me two more grants after that. And it really begs a bigger philosophical question of how many people in the world are 10, 20, $30,000 away from doing something that is really impactful in the world? How many people just have nothing to their name? So they’re just trying to grind, grind, grind, grind, grind, where if they just got a little bit of cash, had that injection, they would get the momentum.

And then you begin to succeed and then success builds upon itself, right? It’s the Matthew principle from the Bible, right? It’s the oldest ideas that to whom things will be given, more will be given too. And what Tyler did was he just gave me that initial spark of energy that led to everything else. And it wasn’t just the money though.

It’s not just a cash injection. It is belief from somebody who you admire, belief from somebody you respect and having somebody who says, I believe in you keep doing your thing. Because when you’re first starting off, you don’t know if you are crazy or brilliant, if you’re wasting your time or using it effectively.

I remember calling my dad after I lost my job. And I said, “I have a plan. And after 10 years, it’s one hell of a plan. Over two years, you’re not going to like it.” And this morning I’m home with my parents.

He said, “I’m finally starting to understand what you’re doing.” He said that to me about an hour ago. And it’s the combination of belief and cash. I just wonder how many people are constrained on those vectors.

FRANK BLAKE: How did you happen to apply? Tyler, as you said, we’ve had him on this podcast and he’s just one of the smartest people in the whole world. So you must’ve said something pretty extraordinary.

DAVID PERELL: It’s that internet serendipity thing. I interviewed him on my podcast. For me, the podcast was what I call a serendipity vehicle. Something that you use to then spark connections with people. And one thing that I did because I had nothing to my name.

I was living in New York at the time, and I insisted on interviewing people in person. 

And so with Tyler, I emailed him and I said, “I’d love to interview you, but I will go to Washington DC from New York for this interview.” And I was living in a small Brooklyn apartment at the time and I went on a $5 megabus. And you go to the megabus and all the way on the West side of New York, it smells bad. 

I was sitting in those seats we’re sort of facing each other like an old station wagon or something. And it was so uncomfortable. And I remember I found a friend to stay with, all these sorts of things. And I just had to interview Tyler in person. We spent what, 60 minutes together. Had a nice chat after the podcast.

And I guess he took a liking to me, and one year later after he announced the Emergent Ventures Program, I emailed him. He said, “Yeah, you’re exactly the kind of person who I would want to apply.” And had I not taken that megabus and spent the three, four days that I needed, I don’t think I would’ve gotten that grant.

FRANK BLAKE: That’s phenomenal. What a great story. So I want to let you pay that forward. One of the things I mentioned to David before we started the podcast is I love what you’re doing with Write of Passage and I think it’s phenomenal. As you say, you’ve sort of purposely put in some friction.

So this is an expensive course. This is like $4,000 for your course. Well worth it, parenthetically. But there are many folks out there for whom $4,000 for a course is a lot of money, I want to do three Crazy Good Turns scholarships for Write of Passage.

DAVID PERELL: I’m in. I mean, it’s really cool that you and I can partner up to do this for somebody. We’ll give the scholarships to people who are already doing some online writing. Those are the people who seem to do the best in the course, and we’ll give three of those scholarships. I’m really excited.

FRANK BLAKE: That’s very cool. So just for the folks listening now, what would you say? Core characteristics of someone who will really benefit from this.

DAVID PERELL: If I were to just zoom out a little bit, I think it’s people who are committed to being what I call citizens of the internet. And a citizen of the internet is somebody who thinks in ways that are digitally native. They are people who use the internet, who want to use the internet to work, to make friends, to think.

We want people from all over the world who are interested in this and people who are writing and sharing their ideas and they’re voracious learners. Those are the people who we want to accept.

And if you can communicate that, then we will prioritize you in the process of deciding who we’re going to give the scholarship to.

And I will tell you that your acceptance rate will go up so dramatically if you really take the time to personalize your message, to be deliberate about why am I writing this for this position? 

FRANK BLAKE: That’s great advice. That’s terrific. I’d also like to thank you for the citizen of the internet comment, because it leads me to the next discussion item. As someone who’s too old to be a citizen of the internet, and the internet is often I look at it as a very hostile, angry world.

And one of the things that appeals to me about what you do and sort of what the crazy good turn connection is, is there’s an internet of helping folks. And if you were thinking four or five years from now, will we start to move, bend the arc a little bit more towards ways of helping people, express gratitude and the like, educate them, whatever? Or is it just going to remain this Punch and Judy show?

DAVID PERELL: I don’t know.

FRANK BLAKE: My God, David, I was counting on you to say-

DAVID PERELL: I know.

FRANK BLAKE: You have great progress ahead.

DAVID PERELL: I would like to think there’s going to be great progress. And I think that I would just phrase it a little bit differently. I think that one of the things that you have is this really weird asymmetry, where negative things tend to spread farther than positive things.

And people who are sort of red with rage actually have the same amount of ability to speak as people who are quite happy. And what I find so odd is how in my direct messages of the private comments, the people mentioned tends to be so kind and thankful and just filled with gratitude.

And the people that I meet are just so exceptional and yes, there’s this sort of world of people who are angry and just vicious. Here’s my optimistic take here. The consumer internet has been around for 14 years. And if you were to go back to something like the Gutenberg press, something like a car even, we’re just now inventing the model T.

We haven’t come out with what the Wright brothers… They flew December 17th, 1903. So it is like 1917 right now. We haven’t even invented airplanes that really have propellers. I mean, let alone the jet engine. Pan Am hasn’t started yet. And I think it’s really important to remember that we’ve basically just engaged in one of the largest social experiments in human history.

One of the biggest zero-to-ones of not having a global village to being able to comment on these same forums. And it’s really early, we’re going to get better at this. But I agree with you, it can just be hard for the soul to spend a lot of time on the internet. It hurts sometimes.

FRANK BLAKE: So five years from now, where will Write of Passage be? Where do you see your position on online education? What’s the five-year thought process?

DAVID PERELL: So Write of Passage is going to be a business school that is through the mechanism of online writing, and here’s what I mean by that. There’s sort of a three-step process to getting people to become citizens of the internet in the professional sense.

What you do is you start writing about a topic that you’re interested in. Then eventually you get enough feedback from people and enough knowledge on the thing that you’re writing about that then you can launch generally a service product in that area. You begin monetizing your writing. Because you don’t have to pay customer acquisition costs because those people who buy are your readers.

And then the third process is actually scaling up that business. 

And I think that I can take definitely a couple of hundred, maybe a couple of thousand people through that process and get them to a place where they’re using the internet to build their career. 

I once heard Amazon described as a sort of perpetual motion machine of what they call two-pizza teams. These small groups of small experiments.

And often they fail sometimes in epic proportions, like the fire phone, and sometimes they begin to succeed. You have all these little small experiments running, and then you invest more time, energy, money into the experience that work. And so I want to combine those two things, audience-first products.

We have students who come in, then they go on to become leaders in the community through our alumni mentor program. Some of them have these experimental ideas. So we have one guy named Michael who’s developed a new way of editing writing that is unlike anything ever seen before.

He has now incubated his own business under the Write of Passage umbrella. And so what I want to do is I want to have students go on to become mentors and then go on to be business founders within Write of Passage, and then Write of Passage is actually a collection of maybe 10 businesses over time.

All of them probably seven figures a year if you move forward and they just tackle every single crevice of online writing and Write of Passage becomes the place first, where you build an online audience. And then you go to build the business where you can support your family. And through that, you meet friends and you don’t have to slog through this journey as a solo creator. But that’s the 20-year vision.

FRANK BLAKE: That’s very cool. I have a very tactical question for you in that within that five years. Interestingly I’ve spent a lot of time talking to other business leaders about what’s going to change in the post pandemic world, how will Zoom be used, and the rest. And you had a phrase when you’re talking about this with your partner, Tiago Forte of Zoom and the like, all of those as being very good in the coffee mode, but horrible in the beer mode.

That just nailed it for me in terms of, yeah, okay. A lot of effective coffee drinking, not so much effective — not that in business, you’re going to be drinking beer. But just the more random interfaces, the serendipitous conversations, can you fix that?

DAVID PERELL: Totally. So here’s what we have…

FRANK BLAKE: All right, this is… Maybe not the internet as a whole, but this you can fix.

DAVID PERELL: I think it was… Was it Alan Kay who said the futures here is not evenly distributed yet? And I love that idea. I do not try to predict the future. I just try to look at what are the things that are happening now that are definitely going to be a bigger part of the future.

And then I bet on those things. And here’s one of the things that you just look at this and you’re like, that is something. We use this thing called spatial audio and it’s so in its infancy right now. But what it is, is it simulates a room, sort of like a cocktail party.

You can sort of hop and hang out in different areas just by dragging your profile picture across the screen. And as you move to a different part of the screen, the conversations in one part where you used to be, they go silent. And then as you get closer, they become louder. So you can hop in and out of conversations.

And this is what we want Write of Passage to become. We want it to basically for five weeks, be constantly on-chat where everybody is there for writing and all the conversations are about what are we going to write? How do we come up with new ideas, new things to write about?

And actually have this be a place where people are always going, this virtual coffee shop where people can always have these conversations, because what the entire productivity world is built on right now is sort of very convergent thinking in terms of this is our goal. This is what we need to get done and sort of zooming out there’s coffee mode and there’s beer mode.

But beer mode is you’re sort of sitting back with your buddies. You’re having a beer. You’re just sort of relaxing. Things are sort of coming up from your subconscious mind. You’re like, whoa, I just came up with a good idea and that’s sort of the relaxation phase. And then the other half of creativity, and this is what most productivity advice is really focused on, coffee mode.

This is, I have a coffee, I have a deliberate goal. I’m going to figure out what I need to do. And actually empirically after the prohibition in America, when a bar was outlawed and sort of taken away from a community, the rate of innovation went down by something like eight to 12% in that community, just from the bars being banned. And so it took three or four years.

We actually got to a place where we figured out how to have these beer mode conversations without them. But it’s very clear that just being able to sit back and converse, have a good time and just talk, you kind of never know what’s going to come up. And I think that that’s really underestimated in the creative process.

FRANK BLAKE: Without a doubt. Well, that’s a great and encouraging answer. And I’ve already taken you well beyond what we usually spend time on with our Crazy Good Turns podcast. I hope the listeners have been as fascinated by this as I have been. Thank you so much for your time.

What are the best ways for people who want follow up, learn more about Write of Passage, about you, whatever, what’s the best way for them to connect with that?

DAVID PERELL: Perell.com is the best place to go. It’s P-E-R-E-L-L, that’s my website. And from there sign up for Monday Musings and Friday Finds. Those are my two newsletters, which I think that you seem to enjoy, and…

FRANK BLAKE: Very terrific. That’s an unrequested endorsement.

DAVID PERELL: Thank you.

FRANK BLAKE: Absolutely phenomenal.

DAVID PERELL: I appreciate that. And so the Monday one is just a collection of the coolest things I learn every week. They’re kind of wacky and random. And then the Friday one is just a bunch of links that I don’t think people would find on other corners of the internet. I mean, I’m sort of amazed that I find them. And then sort of through that you’ll hear about the next Write of Passage. I would love to have you, and it would just be great to have you as a student.

FRANK BLAKE: Okay, cool. Thank you David. Terrific.

DAVID PERELL: Thanks Frank.

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